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Hospital Transparency

Transparency pays: Hospitals score poorly in last state required to disclose safety

Leah Binder, CEO of Leapfrog Group, talks with Jayne O’Donnell about her ratings that compared trauma centers. Michael Owens, USA Today

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Fifteen U.S. hospitals — including two in Washington, D.C. — received failing grades in a new report on 2,600 hospitals released Tuesday that includes all 50 states for the first time.

Maryland, which was previously exempted from providing hospital safety reports due to a special waiver, now ranks 46th on the non-profit Leapfrog Group’s latest state rankings.

Leapfrog is a watchdog organization that was started by employers and unions that wanted more public information about patient safety and quality. While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rates about 90% of hospitals “average,” Leapfrog is a much tougher grader. No other rating organization gives out anything equivalent to a D or F.

The grades factor in medical errors, infections and injuries, based in part on patient responses to surveys, data provided to CMS, the American Hospital Association and voluntarily to Leapfrog.

The new ratings show significant improvements in five states since Leapfrog first issued grades in 2012. Oregon, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Wisconsin and Idaho showed the most improvement in the five years of the “Hospital Safety Grade.”

There’s hope for patients in Washington, D.C., Maryland and elsewhere: UCLA Ronald Reagan Hospital got an F in Fall 2012; and five years later, they scored an A. Rhode Island had the safest hospitals on average, ranking 1st, while they were ranked 50th in fall of 2012. Nearly 80 hospitals that had gotten an F in the last five years are now up to a C or better, Leapfrog reported.

Hospitals use positive ratings as a marketing tool, often buying billboards to tout their ratings.

“It’s fine for a hospital to say they are excellent in their advertisements and brochures,” says Leah Binder, Leapfrog’s president and CEO. “But that’s not good enough for patients entrusting their lives to a hospital.”

Nearly all of the “F” hospitals catered to low-income patients of color, including in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, New York City and Los Angeles.

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